14 March 2012

Spode and Botanical Designs

A floral design, Flower Embossed shape, pattern 3127, c1821
In February 2012 I gave my talk Pots of Orchids to the Cheshire Gardens Trust who made me very welcome at their meeting. I first gave this talk as part of the James Bateman bicentenary events at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in 2011. It was lovely to revisit the subject with a group of plantsmen and women with a keen interest, not only in gardening, but also in garden history. They were a great audience.

For the handling session after the talk I had suggested bringing pots of any make and date with plants as decoration. They surpassed themselves with the variety which graced the table, managing to represent nearly 200 years of potting history with imaginative items ranging from dainty Edwardian teacups to toiletware; antique Spode pieces to art pottery.
Cruikshank cartoon - cockroaches not orchids!
My talk 'Pots of Orchids: The Spode Bateman Connection' covered my research into the links between the Spode company, its lovely botanical designs, in particular orchids, and my finding fragments of an important botanical publication of huge physical proportions at Spode. I found pieces of the book over several years in different locations on the large Spode factory site. The conserved book is in the Spode archive with collection no. SMT 2000.318.

So what is this book? It is the Orchidaceae of Mexico & Guatemala, published 1837-1843, by James Bateman now perhaps more famous for creating Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire.

The book contains beautiful, huge, hand coloured lithographs of newly discovered orchid species found by plant hunters commissioned by Bateman. It also has a humorous side with comical stories alongside the proper botanical descriptions. There are also cartoons by George Cruikshank one of which shows the hazards of receiving a consignment of orchids from a far-off land gathered by intrepid plant hunters. See illustration above...

In 2013 I gave this talk to the Transferware Collectors Club in Boston, MA, USA where I was invited to give two Spode presentations as keynote speaker that year. You can find my article based on the talk by clicking here.

Orchid designs were produced by Spode using the illustrations from this important and mammoth book as well as botanical subjects from other publications. If you want to learn more please see my series of articles published 2005/6 in the RHS Orchid Review. Details are on my publications page - please click/tap here.
Dessert plate, Cyclamen coum on thyme sheet, c1815
Curtis's Botanical Magazine, illustration 4, 1787
A Spode dessert plate made in about 1815 illustrated here is decorated with Cyclamen coum from illustration 4 in 'Curtis's Botanical Magazine' of 1787. This Spode version of the pattern has a leaf background, known as thyme sheet.

Every piece in a service featured a different botanical subject taken from the magazine.
Dessert plate, Spring Crocus on thyme sheet, c1815
Backstamp on plate decorated with crocus
Another plate shown here is decorated with Spring Crocus and the common name for the plant printed on the back along with an impressed Spode backstamp. The source of the crocus from the magazine, illustration 45, is also shown. These plates were produced on earthenware and were printed and then hand coloured.
Curtis's Botanical Magazine, illustration 45, 1787
Many other botanical services were produced by Spode both on earthenware and on bone china and were fully handpainted with the plant name, sometimes in Latin, painted on the reverse. A shaped dish from a supper set is shown here with 'Ivy Leaved Geranium' painted onto the back. Like the dessert services each piece of the supper set featured a different flower and each named was handpainted in script on the back. It is shown here alongside its source illustration 20 of 1787 from the magazine. The supper set probably dates from c1815.
Supper section, featuring Ivy Leaved Geranium, handpainted c1815
Stafford Flowers, 1986
A pattern featuring orchids and other botanical subjects is called Stafford Flowers. A clever design looking very traditional it was first introduced in the modern era in 1986. It uses a mid-19th century shape, Stafford shape, and takes it inspiration for its surface pattern from a service produced in the early 1800s. The basis of the design uses flowers from the Curtis's Botanical Magazine which are in the Spode archive. Each piece has 2 different flowers on it - the coffee pot features an orchid.

There is a famous Spode blue and white transfer printed pattern called Botanical but the source for the flowers is not yet discovered.
Sauce tureen, Botanical pattern c1828
There is also a blue and white transfer printed pattern called Geranium introduced in about 1818. A few years ago I spent a long time researching this and finally I discovered that the source for its central design is from Curtis's Botanical Magazine even though I had been told it wasn't in the magazines... It was taken from illustration 261 first published in 1794 of an Erodium incarnatum or Flesh coloured cranesbill. 
Dish, earthenware, Geranium pattern, transfer printed c1818
Curtis's Botanical Magazine illustration 261

The Spode factory produced many designs with a floral theme over the years. Amongst these are designs which feature some true botanical subjects which include roots, corms, seeds and wilting leaves. These were not to everyone's taste and most customers seemed to prefer stylised floral patterns - particularly pink roses!

It is interesting that there is often a connection between potters and plantsmen. W. T. Copeland, owner of the Spode factory, was one of the very few subscribers to the rare Bateman's orchid book. I was informed by a member of the Cheshire Gardens Trust (thank you!) that one had come up for sale in 2010. In a twist in the tale of my research I was fascinated to see mention of an inscription inside the book featuring the name Josiah Spode. I found that this was Josiah Spode IV (1823-1893). This Josiah Spode was great-grandson of the company founder Josiah Spode I but had no connection with the running of the Spode company.
Josiah Spode IV (1823-1893)
The inscription says 'To Josiah Spode from Hugh Henshall Williamson 12 June 1855'. I did some more research and found that the book was given to Spode IV by his Uncle Hugh. This was Hugh Henshall Williamson. It was a present for his 32nd birthday. Uncle Hugh was closely connected with the Spode family and business. As well as uncle to Spode IV, he was also executor of Spode IV's father Spode III's will. Spode IV was 6 when he inherited the Spode business but never directly associated with it. Uncle Hugh was a trustee when new owners were being sort for the business in the early 1830s.
Hugh Henshall Williamson (1785-1867)
So how did Uncle Hugh have one of these rare books? Well, my research led me to discover he too was a subscriber to the publication alongside W. T. Copeland.

Why did he give his beloved nephew the book? Because by coincidence Spode IV had become an important orchid grower with a passion for the species, cultivating them at his home near Rugeley in Staffordshire, writing about orchids and showing them at specialist orchid shows.

At whatever date botanical designs were produced by Spode I found that they were always rather specialist; and often specially commissioned too. I researched this subject in detail some years ago with particular reference to 'Curtis's Botanical Magazine' first published in 1787. I was commissioned by the current version of the magazine from Kew to write about it and this can be found in my article 'Flora Ceramica' Volume 19, Issue 3, pages 183–213, 2002.